The Czech government estimates that almost a quarter of Czechs can make themselves understood in English. According to government official Ivan Fisera, the Czech Republic scored better than for example Latvia, Portugal, Poland and Hungary. The government of Stanislav Gross has put forward a new plan called "English for Everyone" aiming to improve the nation's knowledge of the language. Sixty-seven percent of primary school children over ten years of age learn English as their main compulsory language, which is the third lowest percentage in this age group in Europe.
The Czech Republic supports Ukraine's suggestion that the visa regime between the two states should be simplified. After a meeting with the chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament Volodymyr Lytvyn, the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said that the process needs to respect European Union's regulations. He suggested that visas should be abolished for the Czech Republic's citizens, and the citizens of Ukraine would acquire them free of charge in a simplified procedure. Mr Svoboda also said the Czech Republic would like to strengthen its political and economic relations with Ukraine after the recent political changes in the country.
The Czech Republic is sending 40 new soldiers to Afghanistan in March to strengthen its contingent in the country. The new unit will serve in the north of Afghanistan as part of the NATO forces operating there. The Defence Minister Karel Kuehnl has said the team of Czech and Danish soldiers will be commanded by German officers. Its main task will be maintaining security in the province and protecting the international military units.
The Czech Republic's football team beat Slovenia 3:0 away in a friendly international on Wednesday evening, their first game of 2005. The Czechs' goals came from Tomas Jun, Jan Polak and Jan Koller. Koller's strike saw him enter the history books: it was the giant striker's 34th international goal, equalling the all-time record set 67 years ago by Antonin Puc.
The opposition Civic Democrats do not plan to initiate a confidence vote in the government of Prime Minister Stanislav Gross over the financing of Mr Gross's luxury flat in Prague. The party's deputy head Ivan Langer said on Thursday it would be an empty gesture at this point. The Prime Minister himself said that he is not going to resign over the controversy surrounding the purchase of his flat. Speaking at the lower house of parliament on Thursday he said the controversy, as well as speculation about the financial sources of his wife's business were created artificially. Recently the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes discovered that Mr Gross's flat cost more than he had officially earned. So far the explanations given by the Prime Minister have not been accepted by his political opponents.
The Czech Republic's national air carrier Czech Airlines transported a record 4.34 million passengers last year, up from 3.6 million in 2003 and 3 million the year before, a Czech Airlines spokeswoman said. By preliminary un-audited results, the carrier made a profit of more than 250 million crowns (or around 10 million dollars) in 2004 after years of losses. Last year Czech Airlines also added ten new destinations. Passengers were mostly interested in flights to London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York and Moscow. In 2004 Czech Airlines extended its fleet, having acquired ten new planes, the highest number in its history, and operating a total of 45 aircraft at the end of the year. Czech Airlines operates Boeing 737s, ATRs and Airbus 310s.
Europe needs more, not fewer, economic migrants despite public fears and high unemployment in West European countries, the EU Labour and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said on Wednesday. Speaking in an interview with the Reuters news agency, the former Czech prime minister warned there would be 20 million fewer workers in Europe, including migrants, over the next twenty years, due to an ageing population and falling birth rates. Mr Spidla also expects some of the 15 old EU member states will not extend the transition period on the free movement of workers from the 10 new countries, once the first two-year transitory period expires in 2006. Mr Spidla said he hopes to see a more flexible retirement system in the EU that would encourage more Europeans to work later in life, while providing pensions for those who needed to retire.
The Czech Republic's Ambassador to NATO, Karel Kovanda, has been appointed the European Commission's Deputy Director General of External Relations. The 61-year-old former Ambassador to the United Nations will be the second Czech to become a senior European Commission official, after Marie Bohata was named Deputy Director General of Eurostat in October. Mr Kovanda is expected to take up his post in the coming weeks. The current Czech Ambassador to London, Stefan Fule, will most likely succeed Mr Kovanda in the post of Ambassador to NATO.
The Slovak government has decided not to appeal a court verdict ordering it to pay 24.8 billion Slovak crowns (some 775 million US dollars) to the Czech bank CSOB (Ceskoslovenska obchodni banka). In December last year, the Washington-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ruled that Slovakia still had an outstanding debt to the Czech bank after it failed to pay back a loan from 1993. The Slovak Finance Ministry has promised to pay CSOB 16 billion Slovak crowns by Friday. The remaining sum owed would be paid by the beginning of next year with one percent interest.